At work I sit in a cubicle. Well, actually a pod of five workstations, but it’s systems furniture built of metal and fabric-covered panels and so it’s a cubicle in my mind. Next door to our pod is another pod and so on down the row. Before this job, I had a private office. I like the pod better.

I thought it would be distracting to sit in an open seating arrangement, but it’s actually quite nice to hear what’s going on around me – I feel a lot more connected. My pod-mates are right there if I have a quick design or process question, I can hear folks discussing their projects, giving me a feel for what the firm is working on, and of course we spend a bit of time socializing, which brings us together on a personal level. People move around the office constantly and are often figuring out design problems or strategizing in fluid groups. Plans, models, and materials are spread on every surface so I can learn what more experienced designers are up to. Everyone who sits in the cubes is approachable for help on a problem or just to chat. The office really does buzz. Even with all this activity, I haven’t had any trouble keeping my mind on my work.

Everyone isn’t in cubicles, however, and this presents an interesting contrast to the general collaboration that goes on in and around the pods. Some of the senior staff sit in glass-walled private offices and although I walk by these offices often and can see through the glass walls, the mere presence of the wall causes me to think twice before stepping inside to ask a question or chat. It’s a barrier to communication even though the people within would probably be more than happy to talk with me.

In a couple of months, those of us in pods are moving to an even more open arrangement of workbenches – long linear tables with some low storage above and below. Everyone in a row, exposed. It’s meant to encourage even more collaboration and many of the designers seem to be excited about it.

Collaboration is, of course, the hot topic in workplace design, so it will be instructive to compare first-hand how it feels to have been in a private office, now in the 5-person pod, and soon in an open row of workbenches. Workbenches have a tradition in the creative professions that doesn’t exist in other professions, but the clear trend throughout the business world is toward increased teamwork. What I learn from my own experience should be helpful in designing for other professions. Sitting in even closer proximity to so many designers should also help me learn to be a better designer. This is good stuff.

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